January 28, 2008 / 11:56 AM / 11 years ago

Russia to invite 400 foreign monitors to March polls

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will halve the number of foreign observers at its March presidential election compared with a similar vote 4 years ago, the head of the central electoral commission said.

President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to extend his influence in ensuring a loyal ally succeeds him, has accused European observers in previous polls of being biased.

“We are inviting around 400 foreign observers,” Vladimir Churov told a news conference after signing a thick pack of invitations in front of journalists.

According to information posted on the official web site of the electoral commission (www.cikrf.ru/international), altogether 800 observers from 50 states were monitoring the presidential election in 2004.

Late last year Europe’s election watchdog ODIHR refused to monitor a parliamentary election after the authorities cut the number of foreign observers to just over 330 from 1,200 in the previous election and delayed issuing visas for them.

Putin, popular as the president who has brought a degree of stability and economic recovery after the chaos of the 1990s, is forbidden by the constitution from running for a third term at the March 2 election.

Churov said there were still suspicions about the intentions of foreign observers.

“We cannot help feeling concerns about the way some foreign observers, already notorious for their unacceptance of our state, are being selected,” he said.

However, the elections chief promised foreign observers would have every opportunity to do their job.

“There will be no limitations for the foreign observers if they adhere to law,” he said.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, writing by Oleg Shchedrov, editing by Ralph Boulton

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